With the weather getting cooler, days getting shorter and people spending more time indoors, I’m hearing a lot of excuses to keep children indoors when we should be doing the opposite. I don’t understand why so many early childhood educators do not take children outdoors! It can be 75 degrees with a slight breeze and they say it’s too hot or 50 degrees and sunny and they say it’s too cold. I’ve even heard that “we can’t go out because of licensing!”
There are very few days when weather conditions are so extreme that it’s safer to keep children indoors than to take advantage of the benefits of getting them out. Large muscle coordination is key for early development, and what better place to grow these muscles than outdoors through active movement? Don’t just open the windows and let fresh air in, let the children out! Outdoor activity also combats the childhood obesity epidemic, a concern for many parents and the goal of many programs. And what about the children just running around and letting go a little bit of stress? Our doctors recommend we exercise weekly to reduce stress, and it works for children, too! Physical activity and fresh air go a long way to reducing stress for children and for their caregivers.
So, why are we keeping children indoors? Many people still have the belief that cold weather can make you sick, but anyone who has attended a Communicable Disease training knows better! Bacteria and viruses are the causes of most illnesses. While cold temperatures can lower the body’s temperature and by extension the effectiveness of the immune system, if a person is dressed appropriately and only outdoors for a short period of time (let’s say 10 – 15 minutes) moving around playing, their chances of staying healthy due to not being closed up indoors breathing the same stale air are much greater than their chances of getting sick.
You might be shocked to know that most states, including Ohio, do not have a set temperature for going outdoors. Rule 5101:2-12-14 from Ohio’s Child Care Licensing rules actually states that “the center shall provide outdoor play each day in suitable weather for any toddler, preschool child, and school child.” Though “suitable weather” is not defined, it’s up to the teacher to decide, and a chilly day is not an unsuitable day when a hat, coat, and gloves are involved!
According to the authors of the Environment Rating Scales, a nationally recognized classroom assessment, children should go outside “almost every day, unless there is active precipitation, extremely hot or cold conditions, or public announcement that advise people to remain indoors due to weather conditions such as high levels of pollution and extreme cold or heat that might cause health problems.” We have to challenge the idea that 32 degrees is always extreme. 32 degrees with calm winds or even winds 10 miles per hour is considered acceptable when children are dressed appropriately, so, bundle them up and take them out! It’s good for everyone, even you!